Intro: It is hard to comprehend the drama that attended Jesus’ last night with His apostles before His crucifixion. It was a time of love and service (washed their feet) a time of reverent worship (Passover); and a time of warning. Turn to Luke 22. The event we are going consider is only recorded in Luke. The other gospel writers tell of Jesus prediction concerning His death, and the disciples’ desertion. But Luke gives us a more personal look at this event.
I. Simon, Simon: Luke 22:31-34 – 1 And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” 33 But he said to Him, “Lord, I am ready to go with You, both to prison and to death.” 34 Then He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me.” This is a fascinating exchange. I am convinced it was extremely emotional for Jesus. Before we consider the lesson involved, consider some textual elements:
II. Analyzing the Text:
A. Peter’s Hebrew name was Symeon (cf. Acts 15:14), a Gentile form of which was “Simon.” One recalls that in Old Testament history Simeon was the head of one of Israel’s tribes. But when Jesus called Simon to discipleship, he gave him the name Cephas, an Aramaic term, the Greek form of which is Peter (petros), signifying a “rock.” Jesus may have changed Simon’s name to Peter to reflect the stable and unmovable disciple he would become. But Jesus does not call him the “rock” here.
1. In the passage we read this morning, about Jesus’ request that Peter, James and John watch and pray lest they be tempted in the garden, Jesus addressed him as Simon (Mk. 14:38) This may indicate that Jesus was gently suggesting to Peter that he was not the rock he would eventually become. The double use of that name here may express a degree of stressfulness and timely urging, such as when he used “Martha, Martha” to address Lazarus encumbered sister Luke 10:41), and Jerusalem, Jerusalem (Mt. 23:37) to address the doomed city.
B. The word “behold” (indeed in NKJV) is a Greek word that is often used to introduce a warning, in the sense of “pay attention”, “watch out”.
C. The name “Satan” is a transliteration of the Greek word that means “adversary.” Sometimes the word is used generically; for example, the messenger of Jehovah became the “adversary” of Balaam (Numbers 22:22). In this context, the definite article is attached to the word (The Adversary) representing the name of the arch-enemy of God and his people, the devil. There is no doubt whom Jesus is referring to, or that Jesus considered Satan a real individual, not just a mythological or allegorical figure.
D. The verb exaiteomai, rendered “asked” (ASV) or “desired” (KJV) actually is stronger than it appears. The preposition tacked on to the beginning of the word intensifies it. The term really means to “demand” (ESV). This would seem to portray the arrogance and presumptuousness of Satan (much like his accusation in Job 1).
E. When considering the words of Jesus here, the pronouns are important. Christ informed his apostle that Satan demands to have “you” that he may sift “you” like wheat. You in the English can be either singular or plural. These Greek pronouns in v. 33 are the plural you (you all). They embrace the entire apostolic band (and, in principle, all of us). However, in the next verse Jesus shifts his attention to Peter personally when he uses the singular “you”. I made supplication for you.
F. Sifting refers to the ancient process of separating the wheat from the chaff by throwing the grain into the air, thus allowing the wind to remove the lighter husks (for eventual burning), while the kernels fall to the threshing floor. It is an image used to represent a testing or trial for the purpose of judgment. In this case Satan would be pleased if all were “chaff” — ready to be burned. He stands ready to accuse Peter and the other apostles in the critical hour.
G. But Jesus assures his apostle that he had been praying for him. The verb rendered “made supplication” reflects an “urgent request” that emphasizes a “personal need” on the part of someone; it is a pleading prayer (Danker, pp. 213,218; Thayer, p. 126). The verb is active, not passive. Not I have prayed for you in the past, but literally, I prayed… as Satan asked.
H. Christ had prayed that Peter’s “faith” might not “fail.” The apostle’s “faith” had clearly been revealed to Satan and others in Peter’s bold confession. (I do not believe Satan could read Peter’s heart) (Matthew 16:16), This conviction was going on trial.
1. The term “fail” translates the Greek, ekleipo (the word from which our English “eclipse” derives). The term implies a cessation, to die out (Danker, p. 306). Would the light of Peter’s faith cease to shine? Would it be eclipsed by his fear?
I. Jesus indicated that Peter’s faith would pass through a crisis stage, but that he would “turn again,” i.e., return to a state of vibrant confidence. The Greek term is epistrophe, used 36 times in the N.T. — with half of these in Luke’s writings. It is translated as “convert” or “revert”, and denotes a change of direction. Strong’s mentions it as a “moral revolution”.
J. Upon his return, Peter is admonished to “establish” (ASV) or “strengthen” (KJV) (from sterizo, to “fix firmly”) his brothers in the faith. The Greek verb, used 13 times in the N.T., means to prop up, strengthen, confirm, establish.
1. It is interesting to note that the Catholics employ this verse to support their claim the Peter was the primary, or head, apostle. He was given the job of strengthening the others. One writer claims that Peter was “the first of the apostles,” given the task of “strengthener of the faith of his brethren,” and “the security of the Church against Satan and the powers of hell” (p. 147). But Peter is not alone in this responsibility: The same verbal action is ascribed to: Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:22), Judas and Silas (Acts 15:32), and likewise to Timothy (1 Thessalonians 3:2). It was Paul who longed to visit Rome so that he could “establish” (sterizo) the brethren there (Romans 1:11). This is a curious circumstance if Peter was the “head” of the Church in the imperial city!
2. The early church fathers, such as Chrysostom (c. A.D. 347-407), referred to this passage as illustrative of Peter’s great weakness. He suggested Peter’s fall “was more grievous than that of the others” (Homily 82). The use of the text to argue Peter’s supremacy is not found until the 11th century. Peter would be involved in strengthening the church (both personally and through his epistles) but Jesus command here does not place Peter above others.
K. Peter responds to Jesus’ warning with incredulity, and perhaps arrogance. “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” The adjective “ready” (hetoimos – 17 times in the N.T.) signifies that which is “prepared” (cf. Mark 14:15). The apostle affirms that he is prepared for the ordeal to follow. Both Matthew and Mark comment that Peter insisted he would not deny Christ. Matthew used a present tense verb, “he kept saying” (26:35), while Mark employed the imperfect tense with the same effect (14:31). Both also note that the other disciples joined in with a pledge of loyalty — perhaps influenced by Peter’s boisterous claim.
L. Jesus declared: “I tell you, Peter (note the change from “Simon” to “Peter”), the rooster will not crow today before you have denied knowing me three times.” Interestingly, the term Christ uses to describe Peter’s denial is a very strong one, suggesting “to deny utterly” (Vine, p. 204).
1. Mark, the closet gospel to Peter himself, records the event this way: Mark 14:29-31 – Peter said to Him, “Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be.” 30 Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” 31 But he spoke more vehemently, “If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And they all said likewise.
2. The ancients sometimes used roosters for “alarm clocks,” even carrying them on trips! The time of the cock crowing referred to the early morning hours (12 pm to 3am) This time frame was generally marked by more than one crowing before the dawn (6 a.m.) Godet says that Palestinian roosters generally crowed between 12 and 1 a.m., again about 3 a.m., and finally between 5 and 6 a.m. (p. 301). The apostle’s denials likely were concluded, therefore, just before 3 in the morning. The preciseness of Jesus’ words are astounding. This becomes a clear evidence that He is the Prophet of God. It also provides a time marker for Peter himself. The rooster would do what God created roosters to do – wake people up!
a. Jesus was prophetically stating that within a matter of hours Peter would do what he could never have imagined. The whole direction of his life was changed through Satan’s sifting. Mark 14:66-72 – 66 Now as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came. 67 And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with Jesus of Nazareth.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you are saying.” And he went out on the porch, and a rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him again, and began to say to those who stood by, “This is one of them.” 70 But he denied it again. And a little later those who stood by said to Peter again, “Surely you are one of them; for you are a Galilean, and your speech shows it.” 71 Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know this Man of whom you speak!” 72 A second time the rooster crowed. Then Peter called to mind the word that Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” And when he thought about it, he wept.
III. Lessons from the Event: There is much to say about this event. We could take the later writings of Peter’s epistles and connect them here. Peter learned from this event, and when he returned to God, it no doubt. provided a valuable perspective from which to “strengthen” others.
A. It is possible for a child of God to fall away, and lose his salvation. Peter himself would write later: “Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). He had learned much from a bitter experience.
B. Christ did not view Satan as a myth or a superstitious fantasy. He faced Satan Himself, and genuinely understood who was involved in the scattering of His sheep. This context is highly reminiscent of Satan’s scheme to capture Job. However, as with the earlier case, it reveals that the devil does not have unlimited power over human beings. If we resist him, he will flee (James 4:7).
C. No Spin… The fact that all four Gospel writers depict so graphically Peter’s defection (even to the point of his swearing an oath) is stunning evidence of Bible inspiration. Forgers desiring to enhance Christianity’s reputation at any cost, would hardly have portrayed one of the “pillars” of the early church (Galatians 2:9) in such an embarrassing light (see Matthew 26:69ff; Mark 14:66ff; Luke 22:55ff; John 18:15ff). These descriptives lend themselves to an aura of credibility. This point is further strengthened by the fact that Mark’s account, in the words of Hiebert, is “extraordinarily vivid” (p. 434). This takes on a specific meaning when one notes that there is ample literary tradition — from Asia, Rome, and Alexandria — that Peter was the guiding person behind the composition of Mark’s Gospel record (cf. Eusebius, 6.25).
D. Freedom to leave… This event shows how God’s will and human free will coexist. The Lord did not build a wall around Peter, so that he could not be affected by temptation. No, he respected Simon’s freedom of will. Peter could have “watched and prayed”, but he slept.
E. Jesus is on your side… Through all the event, Jesus was on Peter’s side. Even as Satan was working, Jesus was pleading for Peter – an act that previewed the intercessory role for which he was preparing as our mediator.
F. Freedom to return… In the providential order of things, the door was opened through which Peter, with repentance, could pass. The Savior’s penetrating gaze combined with the apostle’s memory, was the key that unlocked the door to reclamation.
G. The danger of over-confidence. Peter arrogantly had bragged that though others might be offended in the Lord, he never would be (Matthew 26:33; Mark 14:29). He had asked why he could not follow the Lord “even now,” and “lay down [his] life” for the Master (John 13:37). But his words were more than his soul was willing to bear at the time.
1. Paul’s later admonition is on target: “Wherefore let him who thinks (present participle — a characteristic train of thought) that he stands (perfect tense – is permanently secure), take heed, lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Conclusion: This narrative is a marvelous commentary on the Savior’s compassion for us when we, through weakness, err. A fall into sin need not spell ultimate and total disaster for the Christian. Peter was not “trashed” because of his dreadful mistake; he was salvaged and, in turn, became a blessing to others. ,
- The apostle was a “rock” in the making, with rough edges that needed smoothing! It is a tragedy of no small consequence that some, who make serious blunders in their Christian lives, throw up their hands in despair and never recover.
- One of the ironical features of this narrative has to do with Peter’s boast — so pretentious at the time, but hauntingly “prophetic.” “Lord, with you,” he said, “I am ready to go both to prison and to death.” He was not “ready” then; but he would be eventually. He went to prison (Acts 5, 12) and it would seem he died for the cause of Christ.
During that interval between his resurrection and his ascension, Jesus, in a conversation that probed the depth of Peter’s dedication, gave the apostle a glimpse of the ominous future in store for him.
- “Verily, verily, I say unto you, When you were young, you dressed yourself, and walked wherever you wanted: but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another shall dress you, and carry you where you do not want to go. Now this he said, signifying by what kind of death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he said unto him, Follow me” (John 21:18-19).
The prophecy clearly indicated that Peter would not die a natural death; rather, he would pass into eternity in some forceful way, at the hand of an enemy.
- In his second epistle, Peter wrote: “And I think it right, as long as I am in this tabernacle [physical body], to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; knowing that the putting off of my tabernacle [my death] is coming swiftly, even as our Lord Jesus Christ signified unto me” (2 Peter 1:13-14). It well may have been the case that Peter was in prison when these words were penned, awaiting execution.
Conclusion: Peter was a complex person. He was rebuked and praised. He was weak and he was strong; He was sifted. You are being sifted as well. But Jesus is on your side.